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Arcane Brilliance: Changes to the Fire tree

Christian Belt

Each week Arcane Brilliance Blinks behind you and hurls a Fireball full of Mage content up your tailpipe. It stings, yes, but the burning sensation is only temporary. Just wait until you see what the Warlock gave you. It's nasty, and trust me when I say that it won't be going away anytime soon.

I've been neglecting Fire Mages, I'll admit it. Before you wind up a Pyroblast and point it my way, hear me out. There's a reason. Since we Mages stepped our flimsy, cloth-clad feet onto the shores of Northrend those several months ago, we've gone through a decent amount of changes. Unfortunately, very few of those changes were to the Fire tree. The news-making specs have been everyone's favorite love-it/love-to-hate-it spec, Arcane, Frostfire, and to a lesser extent, Frost. With so much to report on regarding the other specs, Fire has sort of been put on the back burner (yes, you can expect more bad puns as we proceed--you have been warned). It still blows stuff up like it always has, but does so in as quiet and workmanlike a fashion as a spec that conjures enormous explosions can. Fire Mages are still out there, Fireballing away in relative obscurity while the next Mage over throws his flashy Arcane Barrages or Frostfire Bolts, but there aren't as many as there once was.

I became a little excited when we were told that Patch 3.1 would bring "more survivability for Fire spec in PvP." Though it wasn't anything big or flashy, finally I might have something to report on regarding everybody's favorite fire-starters. Then the PTR patch notes came and went, bearing with them no real Fire-related change to speak of. I keep forgetting that the PTR notes change by the day.

PTR build 9658 has finally put Fire Mages back in the news. The changes aren't anything huge on the surface, but they speak to a new direction in Blizzard's design philosophy for the spec, and with any luck will lead to more changes. After the break, you'll find the complete changes, along with a look at the current and future state of Fire Mages as a spec. You wear your flame-retardant gear, and so will I.

PTR build 9658 Mage changes


  • Fiery Payback has an additional effect - When below 35% health all damage taken is reduced by 10/20% and your Pyroblast spell's cast time is reduced by 1.75/3.5 secs while the cooldown is increased by 2.5 secs. In addition, melee and ranged attacks made against you have a 5/10% chance to disarm your attacker's main hand and ranged weapons.
  • Impact now gives your damaging spells a 4/7/10% chance to cause the next Fire Blast you cast to stun the target for 2 sec.
These are both clear PvP-oriented changes, though neither is really a delivery on Blizzard's stated intent to give Fire Mages "more survivability." Let's look at each change in-depth.

The Fiery Payback change

A quick stroll through the official forums shows me a lot of Mages who think the Fiery Payback change is a clear nerf, simply because the updated patch notes most people are seeing don't list the second rank of the talent. It does indeed still have two ranks, and nothing about it has been nerfed. The talent simply has a new component.

And what a useful component it is (and no, I'm not being sarcastic. I really do think it's going to be useful). Every time anybody hits you with a ranged or melee weapon, there's a 10% chance they'll be disarmed. Good news for every Mage who's ever been hit 17 times in 2 seconds by a Rogue (show of hands...that's what I thought): now there's a good chance they'll lose one of their stabbing implements whilst stabbing you with it. And since the first 16 stabs got you down below 35% health, you can still blink away and hit them in the face with a 1.5 second Pyroblast. And then die. Ah, the life of a Mage. Or death. Whatever.

This does add a bit of damage mitigation for Fire Mages, but it is still very RNG dependent. There will be many a Fire Mage who bleeds out silently 20 seconds after the start of the Arena match without ever seeing it proc. I like my survivability in more controllable, dependable forms, personally. Which is why I like the next change, even though it could almost be considered a nerf.

The Impact change

We've heard for some time now that Blizzard wants to move away from stun procs, and Impact was one of the talents on their radar. Now the other shoe has dropped, and Impact as we knew it is no more. Never again will we see stuns proc at whenever they choose to, without us having to think about them. When we want a stun, we will now have to trigger it ourselves.

Impact will now be a controllable, interactive proc on par with things like Brain Freeze and Missile Barrage. I like these kinds of mechanics, in part because they're just more fun, but mostly because I have can make them happen at the push of a button. I have to wait for a proc, yes, but once it pops, I can choose the hows, whens and who's of its deployment. Instead of having to pray that the Feral Druid behind me gets a stun from my Molten Armor, I can now save an Impact proc from my initial Fireball salvo to use on him when he pounces. I like control, and this gives me control over a stunning Fire Blast whenever the talent procs.

Indeed, this can be looked at as something of a nerf. Though the proc rate has remained steady at 10%, Fire Mages now have to click an additional button to make the stun happen, adding lag time to the process. In addition, the proc can only be used if Fire Blast is actually off cooldown. This means that in practice, the stun will occur less frequently during a fight after the patch hits than it does now.

Still, given the choice between a proc I can't control and one I can, I'll take the one I can control every day of the week and twice on Sunday. Once Impact procs, the buff stays up until you cast your next Fire Blast. You can save it for whatever you want. My personal plan would be to keep each proc in my pocket to use as a spell interrupt, or a way to get distance when needed. This change, in my opinion, is a positive one. You may disagree, and the argument can certainly be made that this is a nerf overall. Still, I prefer to look at it as change, nothing more, nothing less, and this change just happens to be one that fits my style of play.

The current state of the Fire Mage

I've said before in this space that for a very long time I was a Fire Mage, and the spec still holds a very special place in my heart. Fire is still my preferred PvE spec of choice. My Mage on the PTR is currently sporting a dual spec of Arcane for PvP and deep Fire for PvE. I just love to blow monsters up, and nobody makes their enemies explode like a Fire Mage. I switched to a hybrid Arcane/Fire build in the middle of the Burning Crusade for purely PvP purposes (the spec worked well with my Arena team composition), and when Blizzard unveiled the sexy new state of the Arcane tree with patch 3.0, I went full Arcane and haven't looked back.

Others were lured in by the obscene numbers of the new Frostfire spec, and still others remain tried and true Frost Mages (still the most consistently reliable PvP spec for Mages). The sad fact is that there are no Fire Mages left in my guild, at least none that raid with us regularly. We have Frost Mages, and Frostfire, and a glut of Arcane, but no straight-up Fire Mages. Inspecting random Mages in Dalaran this morning, I noticed the same trend holds true in the general populace. Though my census was in no way comprehensive, scientific, or even conducted in a professional manner (I clicked about 20 Mages over the course of 30 minutes while eating pop tarts), I only saw one Mage whose talent allocation could be considered a Fire spec, and even that little Gnomish pyromancer might have been a Frostfire Mage. It's hard to say. He was the only Mage I saw that had gone far enough in to actually pick up Living Bomb, so I'm counting him.

The Fire Mage, so common during BC, is becoming something of an endangered species. Where have they all gone? The spec itself hasn't gone anywhere. A properly constructed Fire Mage can still top the DPS charts in raids, and their AoE capabilities are still second none. When they blow something up, it stays blown up. No, the Fire tree hasn't gone anywhere, it is Mages who have left the Fire tree.

Perhaps it's time we came back.

The future of the tree

If nothing else, these two comparably small changes point to a larger chenge in the way Blizzard seems to be looking at the class. Both changes are directed at improving the spec in PvP, an area in which the Fire spec has always been somewhat limited. Coupled with the earlier statement that they were working on improving Fire's survivability, these changes are further evidence that Blizzard wants this spec to be PvP viable. My guess is that we'll see more changes in this vein as the PTR goes forward.

Survivability still hasn't been properly addressed. Fire Mages have always had a very clear problem in PvP--one that out-weighs any offensive threat they may pose--and that is that they have no real way to mitigate incoming damage. Arcane Mages have multiple damage-reduction and avoidance talents, and Frost Mages are still the kings of survivability as far as Mages are concerned. But Fire Mages...well, they just don't last very long against anybody. Neither of these changes will bring Mages back to the spec for PvP purposes unless more changes happen to allow Fire Mages to live long enough to make good use of them.

Those of you who loathe PvP and consider every change made for PvP purposes a slap in the face will hate these alterations to the Fire tree. Myself, I want Blizzard to make the effort. More needs to be done, but I like the good intentions this new PTR build displays. Blazing Speed needs to be reworked, and some sort of damage mitigation mechanic needs to be added, but it looks as if Blizzard may be working in a good direction. Let's just hope this isn't the end of the changes to the Fire tree.

For what it's worth, here's my humble request:

Dear Blizzard,

More DPS please.



PS: Warlocks suck.

Every week Arcane Brilliance teleports you inside the wonderful world of Mages and then hurls a Fireball in your face. Check out our recent guide to gearing your Mage for Naxxramas, or our look at which stats are most important to Mages and why. Until next week, keep the Mage-train a-rollin'.

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